Employee To Entrepreneur: Prenessa Nalliah

Employee To Entrepreneur: Prenessa Nalliah

I’m a third generation Indian South African woman, descended from indentured labourers who dared to do something more than simply dream. I was raised in Merebank and Chatsworth and have been so lucky to witness the benefits of discipline, courage and curiosity in my lifetime. Despite being a distinction student, I couldn’t avoid failure — today that’s the very thing I’m grateful for because, without it, I’d probably have no business.


From student to CEO

Anyone aged 18 and older can register a business with the CIPC and officially refer to themself as a Company Director, but at 19 years old, I set out to really learn what being a boss was all about. I was enrolled full time at the University of Cape Town and I thought a charity project would be a great way to learn some tangible employable skills. It was a risk, having failed my majors in my second year; I knew I’d never get permission to proceed unless it was something to add to a stellar academic performance.

I started in secret

Social media and search engine marketing were nowhere near as evolved as they are today, so even though we relied heavily on Gumtree ads and Facebook posts at the beginning, nobody from my life in Durban really knew what I was doing. Eventually I downplayed the reality of it to my father, to avoid the discipline-oriented conversations, and I invited my mother to come and help me run it and witness the magic I was building through Creative Angels Fashion Benefit.

Hard work is an understatement

I eventually completed a BA in Corporate Communication and leveraged what I learned there to grow my brand, receiving support and encouragement where I had previously worked on an assumption it wouldn’t be there. I continued running the programme like a full time responsibility while I studied full time, and then after my final exam I applied for an internship in marketing — and I got it.

Imagine that: a CEO with a tangible three years of experience, applying for an internship! You have to stay humble and recognise where you may be best off in your own learning and development journey, and not worry about labels. It was the best decision to choose to work full time, going from intern straight to manager to corporate agency management and, now, I run my own agency full time.


The reality of entrepreneurship

I’ve been laughed at, I’ve failed a million more times and learned how to embrace and enjoy it, I’ve sought therapy to deal with some of the toughest emotions and prejudices I held against my own self.

I lost people who I thought would be there for me no matter what. I gained a whole new set of friends and family. I met the love of my life because I dared to do something about my ‘what if’ dialogue in my own mind.

Working simultaneously as an employee and an entrepreneur gave me enormous appreciation for everything that takes place in business. I also recommend reading ‘From Employee to Entrepreneur’ by Chris Garden and Catherine Blackburn, for inspiration on managing the transition from full time career to full time business owner and entrepreneur.

Written for RecruitAGraduate by Prenessa Nalliah, Founder and Director of Perana Viosa

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